Acute Adrenal Insufficiency

Understanding Acute Adrenal Insufficiency

Acute adrenal insufficiency, also known as Addisonian crisis or acute adrenal crisis, is a serious condition that occurs when your body does not produce enough cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate vital body processes such as metabolism and the body’s stress response.

The main symptoms of acute adrenal insufficiency are:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle and joint pain

In more serious cases, people with acute adrenal insufficiency may experience confusion, dizziness, dehydration, shock, and even coma.

Many people don't realize they have adrenal insufficiency until they suffer a sudden event such as a major illness or injury. When faced with an increased demand for cortisol, the body's insufficient cortisol production may cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure and electrolyte loss.

Causes of Acute Adrenal Insufficiency

The most common cause of acute adrenal insufficiency is Addison's disease, a rare disorder in which the adrenal glands do not make enough cortisol or aldosterone, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s sodium and potassium levels. Additional causes of acute adrenal insufficiency include the following:

  • Sudden stopping or reduction of steroid medications
  • Damage to the adrenal glands from infection, inflammation, or surgery
  • Excessive bleeding (hemorrhage) caused by traumatic injury or surgery
  • Other hormonal imbalances

Treating Acute Adrenal Insufficiency

Acute adrenal insufficiency is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Treatment includes the administration of intravenous fluids and electrolytes, as well as cortisol, either intravenously or via an easel spray. Intravenous glucose may also be administered to prevent hypoglycemia.

For people with Addison's disease, treatment is focused on managing the underlying condition, which may include long-term replacement doses of cortisol and aldosterone.

It is important to know the signs and symptoms of acute adrenal insufficiency and to seek medical attention immediately if any signs or symptoms of acute adrenal insufficiency occur.